October is the 12th annual National Cyber Security Awareness Month. The goal is to inform people about online threats and demonstrate how to stay safe in an ever-changing internet landscape.
The event was conceived in 2004, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the National Cyber Security Alliance and the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center.
Their mission does not just focus on protecting the public, but rather small businesses, large corporations and educational institutions. According to the DHS website, there are five different themes explored throughout the month, one for each week. They include cyber security as a shared responsibility, threats to businesses, safe use of mobile devices and social media, current technological trends and cyber security education and workforce.
The DHS website also provides specialized security guides for different demographics such as students, parents, businesses and law enforcement. It also lists basic tips to get people started.
“Set strong passwords and don’t share them with anyone,” the website stated. “Keep your operating system, browser and other critical software optimized by installing updates. Maintain an open dialogue with your family, friends and community about Internet safety. Limit the amount of personal information you post online and use privacy settings to avoid sharing information widely. Be cautious about what you receive or read online—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” Dr. Bill Mahoney is an associate professor in the school of interdisciplinary informatics and the college of information science and technology.
He said people should not just blindly click things on the internet such as false advertisements and suspicious websites.
“Even though you educate people, and educate them not to click on links and emails and things like that, they still do,” Mahoney said. “If you don’t know the person that email is coming from, and things like that, you should be skeptical.”
Mahoney said many websites do not necessarily harm a computer, but they can track a significant amount of information coming from a device.
Some websites can do malicious things with that information, but sites like Amazon use it to tailor the user’s experience and receive feedback. He said it is not a “my machine will blow up” kind of problem, but it does raise questions about privacy.
Public Wi-Fi also has privacy risks, Mahoney said. Most public Wi-Fi does not use any encryption, making it easy to track what websites people go to and read someone else’s emails.
“You would never, ever want to sit down in Starbucks, or the airport or something like that and start doing online banking,” Mahoney said. “You’re setting yourself up for failure.” Mahoney said automatic updates for
devices are necessary to stay current with security, but anti-virus software is not as useful as it used to be. Virus scanners use specific patterns and look for unique signatures, but if a virus uses a brand new pattern, the scan will not detect it.
“That whole business is sort of like counterfeiting, they’ll make the $10 bill high tech, and then six or eight years later, counterfeiters catch up,” Mahoney said. “So the bad guys tend to be able to stay a step or two ahead.”
To stay safe, Mahoney simply recommends staying vigilant and avoid clicking on suspicious content, no matter how technologically advanced the user is.
For more information about National Cyber Security Awareness Month, go to www.dhs.gov/national-cyber-security- awareness-month